Catching Up With Colton Herta
 April 2, 2019| 
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Herta IndyCar Win 2019

2019 is shaping up to be a seminal year for Colton Herta. Starting off with a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (taking home the vaunted Rolex timepiece in his first try), Herta scored his first NTT IndyCar Series race win in only his third start – all before his 19th birthday – 10 days ago. Now the young Californian looks back on the pieces that fell into place at Circuit of The Americas and saw him become the youngest winner in NTT IndyCar Series history.

Fans of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires were well aware of Herta’s talent before he arrived at the pinnacle of American open-wheel racing. The first driver born this century to race on the development series ladder, Herta missed the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship season-opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. in 2014 because he was not yet 14-years-old. Looking for ways to speed up his learning curve, Herta opted to leave for Europe at the end of that season, joining European open-wheel powerhouse Carlin (which coincidentally was preparing for its first foray Stateside at the same time, joining the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series with Max Chilton and Ed Jones in 2015).

The combination of seat time and the experience brought to the table by Trevor Carlin and his Farnham, England-based squad meant that the young man who returned to America two-and-a-half years later was older and wiser.

“Being away from home for that amount of time really helped me mature,” said Herta. “I only saw my family every six months or so. I did 30 races over 10 weekends and 25 test days the first year alone, mostly because of how close everything is in England and how many tracks there are. It’s easy to be at the track two or three days a week, plus work in the simulator at the shop. They have very good engineers and they really helped me improve my driving.”

Herta returned to the U.S. in 2017 with a plan to continue his move up the racing ladder. Friends with George Michael Steinbrenner IV since he was 12, Herta and the young Yankees scion decided to pursue their IndyCar dream together, forming a partnership with Andretti Autosport with the aim of earning their stripes in Indy Lights before graduating to IndyCar. Steinbrenner, now 22, began his racing journey as an intern with Bryan Herta Rallysport and from the beginning impressed Herta with the speed with which he learned the business of racing.

SG199852-1sm“George picks up things very quickly and remembers things very easily – it’s amazing how much and how easily he remembers things. He learns very quickly as well.

“But I think what really makes this work is that I see him more as a friend than as a boss. That changes our relationship. I mean, I can’t imagine playing video games with any other team owner. We both like the same things and get along really well, and since we’re from the same generation, our lives are more relatable.”

Andretti Steinbrenner Racing racked up some impressive statistics during two years in Indy Lights: finishing third in the title chase in 2017 and second last year, with six victories and 10 pole positions – including a sweep of the month of May in 2018, with wins in both IndyCar Grand Prix races and the series' marquee event, the Freedom 100. The lessons learned in the series helped both Herta and Steinbrenner as they prepared to make the jump to the NTT IndyCar Series with Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

“I gained so much from those two years in Indy Lights, but three thingsIL R1 2018 RA Donuts stand out the most: racing at and becoming familiar with the tracks that IndyCar runs on; how close and competitive the racing is, with all the wheel-to-wheel action and the use of the push-to-pass system; and the media coverage. There is so much more media coverage of racing in the U.S. than there is in Europe, and I went on a few media tours when I was in Indy Lights. I got to know so many of the people that cover IndyCar, including the NBC people, and that was a huge help. There are a lot of opportunities in Indy Lights, like getting interviewed during the IndyCar race broadcast when you’ve won the Indy Lights race. And you get to know the IndyCar teams as well.”

Indy Lights and IndyCar also share a chassis manufacturer, with the Dallara IL-15 designed to prepare drivers for the jump (including the ability to transfer a seat directly from the Indy Lights car into the Indy car). Herta believes the approach helps ease the transition for drivers graduating from the Road to Indy into the big car.

“What’s nice is that the level of engineering increases as you go up the Road to Indy ladder – the USF2000 car doesn’t have a ton of engineering, but there’s quite a lot you can do with the Indy Lights car. Of course, the Indy car has much more that you can do, I would say, so there’s a lot to learn about the changes you can make in different areas, such as the differential, shifting, and engine drivability. But the Indy Lights car definitely helps prepare you for that.”

03-24-Herta-CelebrationMore than a week has passed since Herta’s historic win, but with media obligations and preparations for this weekend’s race at Barber Motorsports Park, the impact of what he accomplished has not yet really hit home.

“It hasn’t fully sunk in yet. I really don’t know when it will! It was such a crazy day – and I still really can’t believe it happened so quickly. I’ve been a bit spoiled this year, to win the Rolex and then get an IndyCar win super early in my career. It’s been an amazing year so far, and I hope it continues this way.”

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